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10 Theories of criminal behavior Published 05 April, 2019   Report Issue

10 Theories of criminal behavior

The existence of crime is as old as the first human civilization. When it comes to criminology, it has been evolved over time and is still growing. Exploring the psychological guts that compels someone to get involved in some criminal activity is a theory. There are several other theories of criminal behavior. Different theories discuss the different perspective of a crime committed. Some theories even believe every crime is caused due to society. However, let’s look into some of the popular ones.

1. Classical Theory: Risk should be greater than Reward

As the name itself says, it is the most classical or traditional one among all the other theories of criminal behavior. This theory was discovered by Cesare Beccaria, a criminologist from Italy. According to Classical theory, crime occurs when risk weakens when compared to the reward.

This theory is more like a ratio of risk and reward that turns out to be more in favor of reward. In simple words, when the weight of reward is more than the weight of risk involved, crime happens. Going by this theory, crime committed is an individual’s choice.

Thus, if the crime is executed by choice, then it is done for personal interest and in selfishness. Classical theory is the combination of reward and risk ratio with the effect of a selfish decision. 

2. Strain Theory: Involvement of the society

This theory is quite different from the classical theory. When classical theory believes that crime committed is by choice; strain theory proposes that in every executed crime the social factors play an important role. The strain theory was developed by a sociologist from America Robert King Merton back in the time of 1930s.

This theory was further evolved by the inputs of Albert Cohen, a criminologist by profession. Later on, two more sociologists, Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin from America gave their input in this theory. A number of factors are considered as the reason for the occurrence of crime. These factors may include failure, lack of social dignity, inequality, unfair income distribution, and several other social aspects.

The inputs given by different sociologists and criminologists under this theory were reformulated by Robert Agnew, a criminologist from America. Here, he introduces the role played by emotion in consideration with looking at a crime with respect to strain theory.

3. Social control or Power control theory: The right governance leads to less crime

John Hagan initially founded this theory; he is a professor at Northwestern University. His department of teaching is law and sociology. According to his theory, gender is a major issue on the table. This could also be said as one of the recent theories of criminal behavior. The power control theory still has the scope of evolution and inputs. Another aspect of this theory also explains that society, comprising every gender is responsible for the prevention of crimes. This theory also says that if governance and legal authorities were not present, the criminal activities would be at its peak.  

4. Routine activity theory: Completion of a desire through crime

In some way or another, this theory is quite related to power or social control theory. Some major elements of the routine activity theory include societal routine. Achieving a desire with the help of crime and less effective deterrent or rule are also other important elements.

According to this theory, crime is generated with a ‘want’ that occurs due to the break in a routine. As humans don’t get along with the change in routine, they end up doing something unethical. A crime emerges when the authority in power does not well control exposure to new circumstances. Lawrence E. Cohen and Marcus Felson discovered this theory. Their explanation was from the period of 1947 to 1974 in the United States.

5. Critical theory: Relevance to the current societal composition of America

This theory believes that as a beneficial thing as democracy is also imbalanced. For instance, this theory believes that the people who make, enforce, and protect laws are quite less in numbers. While on the other hand, the people who have to abide by those laws are much more in numbers.

Therefore, crime exists as the people involved in criminal offenses do not clash with laws but with the lawmakers instead. German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas discovered the critical theory. The Logic behind the critical theory is that an environment is created due to capitalism that put powerful people an advantage. As people with power influence lawmakers, it is easy for them to commit a crime. 

6. Rational Choice Theory: A further improvement in the ideas of classical ideas 

This theory somewhat relates to the classical theory and its originated way back in the 18th century. But experts in the chronological field believe that rational choice is a further expansion of classical theory. In simpler words, the rational choice theory rationalizes the crime.

Similar to the classical theory perspective, this theory also abides by the factor that includes risk and reward. Talking further, this theory believes that another important factor in crime occurrence is time. For instance, if the penalty of an offense is imposed at some point of time in future, the crime is less risky. On the other hand, the penalty would appear to be more worthy if it comes into effect immediately.     

7. Social Disorganization theory: Inefficient organizing leads to crime

This theory is quite simple in comparison with other theories of criminal behavior. As the name of the theory suggests that social disorganization is all about disorganized town or cities lead to crimes. It would not be wrong to say that the social disorganization theory has developed as a byproduct.

The outcome of this theory has relevance with other criminology theories. Namely, rational as well as power or social control theories reference could be observed in its explanation. This theory sticks to the point that says, if preventive measures are not taken, crime will continue to grow.      

8. Positivist Theory: A contradiction towards a rational theory

Back in the time during 18th-century public executions were carried out. The motive behind this was to spread fear among people of being publically punished. This fear was a way to warn people about their actions. But later on, the ideas of penalty for criminal offenses began to evolve.

The positivity theory emerged due to the evolutions by an external factor. A very popular criminologist that believes in this theory was Cesare Lombroso. He was the one who went after physiological perception of the criminal. Lombroso introduced the concept of distinguishing criminals of a different type. That’s how we came to know about criminal by birth and criminaloid. 

9. Labeling Theory: Unnerving but straight and to the point

As the name suggests, this theory says that when a person is labeled as a criminal, his or her chances of getting involved in crime rises. In short, if a person is being punished for a crime and therefore, is labeled as a criminal it makes him even worse. The whole mindset shifts to believe that now when he or she is a criminal, committing crimes is fine.   

10. Life Course Theory: Events from lives shapes the crime

This theory is based on the life events of a criminal. According to this theory, there are two major events, i.e., trajectory and transitory. Here transitory means short term and trajectory mean long term, events create a stepping stone that moves up to crime.  

To understand crime, it is necessary to know the cause of crime. No person is born criminal. The changes in the life of the person make him one. The above 10 theories of criminal behavior explain the reasons for their criminal behavior. Knowing them may help us to save them from becoming a society harm person.

Criminal behaviour Criminal Mind Crimes Crime Mentality Criminal Mentality Law and Order Criminal Law Criminal Theories

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